Economic Development in Beloit
Since the decline of Beloit, WI, as an industrial town, citizens have been trying to create a new identity for their city. There are a few organizations that have invested in Beloit's future, restoring its historical buildings and attracting new businesses and jobs. Perhaps the organization that has been most involved in Beloit is Beloit 2020, formerly called Beloit 2000. These Beloit business leaders and community members have been dedicated to rebuilding Beloit's city center since 1988. Beloit 2020's area of concentration stretches from Henry Avenue in the north to Garner Street in South Beloit and from Sixth Street in the west to Park Avenue in the east. The city center includes the Rock River, Lenigan, and Turtle creeks, downtown Beloit, and will include new business districts and housing (3). Beloit 2020 hopes to create a community of business and retail, art, entertainment, and recreation that will draw people back into the heart of Beloit. This entails boosting the economy by restoring old buildings to include new spaces for housing and business (6).
An important part of Beloit 2020's plan is to create outdoor spaces for recreation. The RiverFront Project includes the River Walk along the Rock River and other bike paths throughout the city, the Rotary River Center, which houses community activities, and Turtle Island, a children's playground. In addition to the recreational areas, the RiverFront Project has revamped the Rock River with a number of public art pieces (6). There are four particular pieces along the Riverwalk that represent Beloit's history. A turtle-shaped geoglyph by Milwaukee public artist Marina Lee. The geoplyph contains colored tiles by fifth grade students from the Beloit School District. There is also a 32-foot-tall metal sculpture called "Celebration" by O.V. Schafer, which once stood in front Warner Electric in Roscoe, WI. The Ironworks murals are enlarged photographs of Beloit Corporation factory workers and are displayed on the outside walls of the old factory facing the river (2). Artist Siah Armajani helped convert an old railroad bridge into the Wood Family fishing bridge, which is topped with a locomotive to depict Fairbanks Morse's history of engine building in Beloit (4). For more information on public art in Beloit go to: http://www.visitbeloit.com/publicart/index.asp.
Beloit 2020's ultimate vision would incorporate projects from other groups. Ken Hendricks' plans to remake the Beloit Mall into a center of community activities and government offices. This proposed plan would move the Beloit Library, the city Health Department, and the police station into the mall's vacant space (7). Beloit 2020 also wants to collaborate with the city in its plan to construct new homes at the River Bend residential site near downtown Beloit. Another proposed partnership might be with Beloit College. The college wants to tie the campus into the greater community. The plan is to move the college's dance and theatre studios to the Beloit Library building downtown (3). These three plans would make use of vacant buildings and open space to attract people to the downtown area with jobs, housing, and entertainment.
Another group helping to rebuild Beloit's city center is the Downtown Beloit Association (DBA), which has also made great strides in bringing businesses to the downtown area since 1987. The DBA has restored 88 buildings for 88 new businesses, which has created 508 new jobs (1). Just some of these businesses include Bagels & More (a coffee shop) and Sud's O'Hanahan's (an Irish pub). There are additional plans for retailers to open up shop in Beloit Iron Works, an old industrial building that once housed the Beloit Corporation. Watertower Industrial Properties West, LLC renovated the building to include loft offices which thirteen businesses now occupy (5). In addition to bringing new businesses to downtown Beloit, the DBA organizes events to promote the businesses already in the area. Holidazzle is one such event that promotes Christmas shopping in the downtown area. Local businesses opened their doors to nearly 500 visitors on December 9, 2005. This event introduced Beloiters to the great shopping opportunities downtown (8). A few other examples of events to promote a bustling downtown include the State Street Farmers Market every Saturday, the Fridays in the Park summer concert series, and Celebrate Downtown weekend, a summertime festival with street vendors and live music (4). The Downtown Beloit Association hopes to continue to bring more retail businesses to the downtown area (6).
The River Walk, product of The Beloit 2020 RiverFront Project. Photo by Liz Hart.
The Fishing Docks, product of The Beloit 2020 RiverFront Project. Photo by Liz Hart.
The lagoon in Riverside Park in Beloit, restored as a result of The Beloit 2020 RiverFront Project. Photo by Liz Hart.
Public art as a result of The Beloit 2020 RiverFront Project. Celebration (1977) by O.V. Shaffer in Riverside Park. Photo by Liz Hart.
The Beloit Area Community Health Center, one of two current occupants of the Beloit Mall. Photo Taken by Liz Hart.
1. 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. "A Vision for the Future." http://www.1kfriends.org/Publications/Online_Documents/New_Economy/A_Vision.htm.
2.Bollier, Jeff. "Art designed for Riverside Park: Beloit children help make Turtle Geoglyph." Beloit Daily News. 21 March 2003. http://www.beloitdailynews.com/articles/2003/03/21/export6100.prt.
3. Danaher, Rebekah. "Vision for Beloit's Future." Beloit Daily News. http://www.Beloitdailynews.com/articles/2005/04/28/news/news01.prt. 28 April 2004.
4. Downtown Beloit Association. "Welcome to Downtown Beloit." http://www.downtownbeloit.com/. 2003.
5. Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce. "Regional Economic Leaders to Converge in Beloit." http://www.greaterbeloitchamber.com/news/0504e.htm. 2005.
6. Leifheit, Drew. "Welcome to Beloit: Rebirth of a River City." Excerpted from Beloit College Magazine. http://campus.beloit.edu/publicaffairs/Beloit.html. Summer 1998.
7. Ostrander, Kathleen. "Beloit developer pitches 'mini-Rockefeller Center': Ken Hendricks presents a plan for the Beloit Mall, including codos, a skating rink and government offices." Rockfor Register Star. http://www.rrstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040701/BUSINESS02/407010302/1003/BUSINESS05. 1 July 2004.
8. Wundrow, Hillary. "Holidazzle Dazzles Downtown." Beloit Daily News. http://www.beloitdailynews.com/articles/2005/12/10/news/121005news02.txt. 10 December 2005.